Kurt Vonnegut’s The Shapes Of Stories is nothing new, but it always makes me chuckle to watch a four minute clip from his humorous lecture on eight fundamental story arcs that can be mapped by computer. If you haven’t seen the video clip or looked at the the “graphs” of the eight stories then follow this link and enjoy. The Man In Hole represents the classic arc of a thriller: hero is first seen leading a normal life, but very quickly he/she is thrust from their comfort zone and plunged into danger. It gets progressively worse as the hero battles a powerful and often mysterious adversary. All seems lost. Failure is imminent. Then, the hero makes one final attempt to avert catastrophe and usually their own death. In many thrillers the hero is victorious. But often they pay a heavy price. Some heroes gain fame and fortune as a result of their heroism. But many authors, such as John Le Carre, refuse to allow the hero out of their hole. They may have a small victory, but often the hero ends up dead and buried, swallowed up by their hole. Others like to leave the end ambiguous / bitter sweet.
Authors for centuries have explored classic story arcs, such as the Cinderella story, which ends, as Vonnegut puts it, with ‘off-scale happiness.’ But it’s how the story is told, the intriguing characters and the variations from the norm or a challenging ending, that makes each individual story feel fresh and exciting.